We are fast approaching our 10 year anniversary of owning sheep, which is hard to believe. We kind of fell backwards into the whole shepherding gig; we certainly did not say at any point "it has been a lifelong desire to own livestock, so let's move to a rural area and immerse ourselves in the farming life," humming the theme song to Green Acres all the while.
Sheep just happened, mostly due to the way farm property is taxed in NJ, and now we have a whole lifestyle (and I have a whole business) built around sheep. Cue blog post from two weeks ago. Life takes you down strange but interesting sideroads sometimes.
It still amazes me, though, how much I have to learn. We are constantly working out new—and hopefully better—ways of working with the sheep. Lessons are learned the hard way sometimes. And sometimes you can't believe it took you 10 years to figure something out.
This past weekend, the ewes-and-lambs group had been put into the barn late Friday night to shelter from the predicted storms. It did indeed storm, and I was most grateful that I was able to sleep soundly knowing that they were protected. The next morning, I went out to feed and move them to a different pasture, and I remembered that Lambykins' coat had become too small, and needed changing.
One of the key lessons, which unfortunately took us way too long to learn, is that if you already have the sheep caught, most of the work is done. Make sure to get everything taken care of at that point.
I started to change her coat... then I decided that it was time to get coats back onto everyone else... then I checked her hooves and saw they needed trimming... and we were off to the races, or should I say the workhouse.
The difficulty of hoof trimming by yourself is that the animal dances away when you try to get the back hooves up, especially if you don't have a solid fence panel to pin the back end up against. A person to hold the head immobile is a key component. I was by myself, and bemoaning my lack of squeeze chute, when my eyes fell upon a spare Sydell panel (from our truck pen) propped against the wall, and a little lightbulb went on.
By tying the panel to the hay rack and the barn wall, I was able to solve two problems at once: I had a little pen to drive the sheep into for easy catching, and once haltered, I could tie them to the hay rack for maximum control. They went into the little chute created by the panel and hay rack willingly, because they could see out the other side; the binder twine was invisible to them. Sheep won't go into a blind alley, but they will go into a narrow space if they think they can squeeze out the other end.
Once tied up, it was a simple matter for me to attend to each hoof with them having little say in the matter.
About halfway through the process, my husband sent out reinforcements. Once he was there, I decided to go one step further and weigh all the lambs. Too bad I don't have any pictures of that process, accomplished with a pulley system over a barn beam, which you can see in the background behind him, that we put into place last year. Last year! How did it take us so long to figure that one out?
I am also regretful that I didn't manage a shot of him with the grain bucket, running like heck towards the far back pasture once we were done, with eight ewes and fourteen lambs in hot pursuit. The power of the grain bucket was one of the lessons we learned early on.